January 1, 2016 (Vol. 36, No. 1)
John Sterling Editor in Chief Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News
GEN Celebrates Its 35th Anniversary and there’s A Lot of History behind the World’s Leading Biotech Publication
Most anniversaries focus on looking back, which is understandable. That’s what an anniversary is supposed to do. One dictionary definition of the word anniversary reads as follows: “the yearly recurrence of the date of a past event…the celebration or commemoration of such a date.”
This year, GEN celebrates its 35th Anniversary and there’s a lot of history behind the world’s leading biotech publication. I’ve been privileged to have been along for the ride for most of those years and to work with as intelligent, creative, thoughtful, and forward-looking publisher as any editor could hope for. That’s Mary Ann Liebert in a nutshell. GEN’s parent company, Mary Ann Liebert, Inc., which currently publishes 90 peer-review journals in addition to GEN, celebrates its 36th year in business in 2016.
As GEN begins its 35th year of covering the global biotechnology industry, I definitely plan to spend some time checking the rear-view mirror, but I am more interested in what lies on the road ahead for biotechnology and life science research. I also want to let you know what GEN has in store for you for our celebratory anniversary.
When GEN was born in 1981, some of the major concerns about biotechnology were: how safe were recombinant DNA products, even though the Asilomar Conference concluded that there was no basis for any real fear; should academic scientists hook up with commercial enterprises like biotech companies; if a recombinant organism, plant, or animal, escaped from the lab would it cause havoc in the environment; and when might we have cloned people?
I recently read GEN’s first issue, January/February 1981. One of the cover stories was “Ptashne to Go Without Harvard U.” It discussed the decision of Mark Ptashne, a Harvard molecular biologist, who in late 1980 went ahead and co-founded Genetics Institute, one of the earliest biotech companies. The story was important because at that time there was reluctance by major universities and academic centers to jump into the business of biotech. In addition, a number of local communities expressed fears about having a genetic engineering laboratory in their neighborhoods.
Glad to say, none of these worries came to pass, and thousands of academic scientists have gone to work for and, in many cases, create and run biotech firms. However, I assume that George Church, one of the most talented and smartest scientific polymaths you will find anywhere, is still thinking about one day cloning Homo neanderthalensis, our long-extinct cousin. Many of us still carry between 2% and 3% Neanderthal genes in our genomes. I have some reservations about such a project but must admit it sure sounds interesting.
For much of its early existence, biotechnology revolved around genetic engineering (aka recombinant DNA) and monoclonal antibody technology. Those remain cornerstones of biotech R&D, but the list of life science techniques and areas of interest has grown enormously. Here is a sampling of the broad range of topics GEN regularly covers: phenotypic screening, high-content analysis, single-use biomanufacturing, quantitative proteomics, continuous bioprocessing, RNA-Seq, precision medicine, cell-line optimization, biomarker validation, and cell signaling.
GEN will continue to report on and analyze these and other key methodologies critical to bioresearch and bioproduct manufacturing. Rest assured that CRISPRs, the most promising of the gene-editing techniques that has been much in the news lately, will be an editorial bull’s-eye for GEN throughout the year. Indeed, a controversy over CRISPRs has arisen that is similar to the one that took place during the previously mentioned Asilomar Conference. The Asilomar sponsors asked for a nonbinding and voluntary moratorium on recombinant DNA experiments until safety procedures could be worked out.
Early last month, scientists met in Washington, DC, to discuss potential restraints on germline editing of the human genome as germline edits would be inherited. In essence, we are talking about the genetic engineering of people. Some attendees at the Washington meeting said the issues of safety and public acceptance had to be considered before germline editing in humans should proceed. Or, as David Baltimore, President Emeritus and Robert Andrews Millikan Professor of Biology at Caltech, so concisely put it at the start of the conference, “The overriding question is when, if ever, we will want to use gene editing to change human inheritance.”
Cancer immunotherapy, which has shown promising results in clinical trials, looks set to become a staple for precision medicine, which increasingly comes under GEN’s purview while being the focus of GEN’s online sister publication, Clinical OMICs.
Life scientists, both in industry and academia, continue to struggle with big data interpretation and analysis, so GEN will query experts on a regular basis to help you make sense of the increasing flood of complex information from basic research and clinical studies.
For our 35th anniversary year, GEN will have a special “spotlight” article in all of our issues. In some issues, biotech experts and top academic researchers will be asked how select technologies and critical areas of interest are moving toward the future. A sampling of the topics to be explored includes epigenetics, single-use systems, gene editing, regenerative medicine, molecular diagnostics, and stem cells.
GEN will also publish interviews with and articles written by pioneers in emerging biotechnologies. So be sure to look for Craig Venter talking about Synthetic Biology; Skylar Tibbits explaining 4D Printing; James Wilson covering Gene Therapy; Aubrey De Grey expounding on Regenerative Medicine; and Pedro Domingos discussing his Master Algorithm for Curing Cancer.
For long-time subscribers and regular readers of GEN, we thank you and invite you to continue the biotech journey with us. For those of you new to GEN, fasten your seatbelts because you’re in for one hell of a ride!